I was devastated hearing the tragic news that Mark Benjamin, his son Luke, and two other passengers died last month. As many in the Santa Monica and Malibu communities mourn his tragic death, I wanted to share how much Mark meant to the Grant School community and me.

I met Mark my first year as the new principal of Grant in 1995. Being introduced to Mark by his friend and Grant parent, Jody Priselac, I listened as they described what Morley Builders would do to help our school. Imagine a large and important company like Morley allowing their employees to donate one hour of their workweek to volunteer at Grant as campus supervisors, classroom assistants or technical or office help.

I said to Mark, you are Grant’s “angel.” Over the next 17 years Morley Builders gave Grant yearly donations that allowed every teacher in the school to take two field trips without charging families for fees. He gave additional money to cover much-needed classroom supplies and, for the past 10 years, helped cover the cost of scholarships for fifth graders whose parents could not afford the fee to send their kids to Outdoor Science School.

An angel? Four times Mark and I met to see how Morley could help our school in other ways. He purchased an entire computer lab worth of hardware. His company wrote a sizable check to pay for new carpeting for our remodeled library. Over a four-day period he authorized a work crew, including a project manager, to fill in a sandbox on the kindergarten yard and create hard surface for additional play space for our students. Finally, three summers ago, a group of parents got Morley to dig out asphalt on the playground so that we could build a community garden.

So when members of the community extol their praise on one of the most altruistic and levelheaded individuals Santa Monica-Malibu has ever known, please add the following. Mark Benjamin was a person who didn’t need the spotlight. He was able to ask hard questions without intimidation. Mark was kind, thoughtful and visionary. He understood how to get things done without ego or ulterior motive.

Mark was always present when one needed help and gave to Grant School not because he had some major connection or incentive, but because he wanted to help. Mark was Grant’s angel for almost two decades and former, present and future Grant Geckos will feel his generosity for generations to come.


Alan Friedenberg

Retired principal of Grant Elementary School

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